Thursday, June 24, 2010

Big, Crazy and Irresistible Characters

In trying to watch every movie ever made (or at least the funny ones), I've noticed that a lot of really great, interesting and lovable characters are completely nuts. In real life, you can't just start stalking someone. You can't tell everyone you're married. You can't just jump off boats in big emotional gestures. But in movies and TV, you can think big. You can go crazy. People can get away with things they couldn't in real life. I think it helps when the irrational behavior is grounded in something real, but sometimes a little absurdity is fun too. Here are some of my favorite crazies:

Barbra Streisand in WHAT'S UP DOC:

Goldie Hawn in HOUSESITTER:

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Changes to the ABC/Disney Fellowship

Applications for the ABC/Disney Fellowship are due July 1st - so get to work perfecting your spec and filling out your application!

Sarah emailed me to point out that there have been some potentially upsetting changes to the "eligibility" section on the application:

The Disney | ABC Writing Program is not a training program. We are looking for writers who demonstrate the potential to be staffed on network and cable television outlets. Prior professional work experience in the entertainment industry is recommended. Post college experience preferred. Although one completed script is required for consideration, the ideal candidates should have a body of work consisting of no less than two spec scripts and at least one original sample.
This professional writing program is open to all individuals who are at least eighteen (18) years of age and who possess evidence of identity and United States employment eligibility for the duration of the program. Writers with Writers Guild of America (WGA/west or WGA/east) credits are also eligible for this Program.
If candidate advances to final stages of interview process, the review of additional scripts and referrals from working entertainment industry professionals will be required.
What? You need three scripts, professional experience and industry referrals? And WGA members can apply?

Don't freak out. Honestly, I don't think the program is working any differently than it has in the past, or that they're accepting different kinds of people than they have in the past few years. They've just put it in writing. The program was never known to accept 22 year-olds fresh out of film school who have only written one script. Why? This is a serious program. Afterward, the program will send you out on meetings with showrunners and try to get you staffed on a show. They want people who have done their homework and understand how TV works. People they won't be embarrassed by. People who are ready to work on a writing staff. Are you ready for that? Many of us aren't - at least not yet.

By "experience," I don't think they mean only professional writing - it could be a PA job. At one of the ABC Fellowship info sessions last year, Frank Gonzalez said that assistants on shows are ideal candidates because they understand how TV shows operate. The program had selected people with no industry experience in the past and found it difficult to prepare these people for professional meetings. I know it's not the easiest thing in the world to get a job right now, but I can see why they would do this. They don't want to send out someone who isn't ready and have that person fail. It looks bad for the program, and it could damage the relationships between the program and showrunners.

I admit that the experience and "industry referrals" requirements are a bit perturbing to me, at least in terms of this being a diversity program. If the aim of the program is to seek out diverse voices, it seems strange that they would be afraid to reach outside of people who already have connections in Hollywood. This is one of the reasons I'm so passionate about WriteGirl. We're getting at girls early, teaching diverse teens who never knew they had stories to tell that they DO, and that we want to hear their voices. As a kid, my parents and teachers were extremely supportive - but not everyone is that lucky. Not everyone grows up thinking, sure, I can be a TV writer - and that might be one of the reasons why we need more diversity in writers' rooms.

That being said, you could argue that anyone serious about TV writing (and anyone with enough determination to succeed in such a competitive field) needs to seek out their own industry connections. Isn't that what I've been saying on this blog for years? I made my own connections. Move to LA. Get a job. Find some alumni from your school. Go to networking events. Meet some people. I didn't have any connections when I started out here...I applied for an internship on the internet, and that's the position that ultimately led me to my agency job, my manager and the producer/director I'm working with.

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Saturday, June 12, 2010

How to get freelance writing jobs online

A few people have written in asking how I got the chance to write for Twirlit, Vivastic, PhysiqueSpeak and AdventureWorthy.

The basic answer: start a blog! Like in screenwriting, you're never going to get paid to write unless people can see samples of things you've already written. Because of my blog, I met another blogger who eventually became editor of one of those sites. She liked my writing and hired me on. As the company expanded and started more sites, I was referred to the editors of those sites too.

A lot of websites pay very little for online articles (especially ones that aren't real journalism, but link to bigger sites and provide more of a commentary), so the key is to write quickly. Don't accept any writing jobs that don't translate to a decent hourly rate. Writing your own blog won't pay anything, but at least you'll enjoy creating the content. Also be wary of any sites that will pay you per click (unless maybe it's a bonus in addition to your base pay). You don't want to spend all your time begging people to click on your articles.

You probably won't be able to make an entire living from blogging or writing online. I started out just doing a few articles a week, and even when it blossomed into daily writing, I had to pair it with tutoring and other part-time work.

You may also want to check out my blogging tips from December!

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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Helping some friends

My friends Will and Jeff and their band Field of Flowers are in the running to be the next band. Do them a favor and click to vote! You don't need to sign up for anything.

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Monday, June 7, 2010

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Perfect Couples

Here's my favorite comedy pilot of the ones I've seen so far:

You can check out previews for the new NBC shows here. What are you guys excited about?

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Friday, June 4, 2010


When it comes to chipping away at the disparity between male and female characters, it's not about men VERSUS women. It's not about swapping men and women. It's not about bashing romance or motherhood or marriage, since there are plenty of great films and shows on those subjects. For me, it's about challenging ourselves to think differently. It's about awareness.

I took a narrative theory course in college, and it's always been on my long-term mental to-do list to learn more about the subject. But something I've always remembered is the idea of paratext. The International Society for the Study of Narrative defines it as all added written material included in a book that does not count as the primary narrative. The website TVTropes expands the idea, defining paratext as everything that is an element of the whole package immediately encompassing the text and not part of the text itself. In other words, all that stuff that isn't a part of the show/movie/story itself, but still comes with it. The stuff on the box, the stuff that comes before the show/movie, etc.

Basically, you can't really evaluate a book/movie/TV show/etc. without being consciously or subconsciously affected by the poster, the marketing campaign, the cover, etc.

I think the idea can actually be much bigger. Let's say you go to see the movie Killers this weekend. Imagine all of the things outside the movie that might affect your viewing: ubiquitous advertising, Ashton Kutcher's Tweets, Katherine Heigl's performances in Grey's Anatomy, reviews of the film you read in advance, interviews with either of the stars, similar couple-action movies like Mr & Mrs Smith or The Bounty Hunter, your knowledge of the development of the film, the script, etc. Even if you watch a film or TV show with no positive or negative expectations, all of your knowledge and experiences will frame how you respond to it.

Similarly, your knowledge and experiences will frame how you approach writing scripts. If you've just seen twenty movies with male protagonists, will you be more likely to write yours as male? If you can't find many movies with women talking about something other than men or marriage, will you think to include it in your own scripts? It's not just about gender, it's about the worlds we live in. If you've never taken a bus, will you automatically show your characters driving cars? That's the danger here. What about race? Geography? Occupation? Sexual orientation? When you think of a doctor, do you think of a man? When you think of a couple, are you assuming they're straight? When it comes to race, I like to write my characters with no specific physical descriptions that would pigeonhole them as one race or another...but if you're giving all of your characters Anglo names like John Grant, does that impose an assumption about race or origin?

What isn't occurring to you?

There's nothing wrong with writing about your specific experiences. If you're an expert on something, go ahead and write about it. It's often a good way for writers to begin, and writers are often hired or championed because of something interesting in their lives.  I would just love for us to be aware of our perspectives, our biases and the choices we're making.

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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

More about female characters

John August's latest post offers a nice extension of the discussion of female characters I brought up in my last post. (Basically, a vast majority of films cannot pass a simple test: 1. the film has two or more female characters with names, 2. the characters talk to each other and 3. they talk to each other about something other than men.)

It's not a perfect test, but John himself admitted that he didn't used to think about these things before, and that he will now. Like I said, it's a choice: It's up to us, as writers, to choose how we portray women (and to portray them at all).

I think it's also worth mentioning that TV shows fare much better than movies when it comes to this test.

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